In late September of 2015, news sources all over the world were reporting on a scandal surrounding one of the most successful car manufacturers in the world, Volkswagen. A company that had spent years cultivating a solid public image with memorable publicity campaigns and solid, reliable cars that claimed to run on “clean diesel” had all of this quickly torn down. Researchers had discovered that their cars were actively and significantly cheating with the emissions they claimed to produce, performing dangerously over the limits set by regulations and putting an excessive strain on our air quality.
Advertising done right
The barrage of bad news
Two and a half years later…
Recent news articles describe how Volkswagen’s sales have begun improving again, breaking records for the company in 2017 (McGee, 2018), and their stocks recently returning to their level before the scandal broke. On first glance, this would seem to suggest that people’s behaviour wasn’t changed in the long term by the negative news broadcasts, however it would be possible that those buying their cars aren’t the same people that criticised the company back in 2015. Regardless, research has shown a lack of long term effects when people are exposed to information that would likely cause a change in behaviour. For example, Jacobsen (2011) found that in the few months following the airing of a famous Al Gore documentary about climate change, an increase in the purchase of voluntary carbon offsets was observed in the area around where the film was shown, suggesting a short term change on people’s behaviour, however this effect wasn’t observed a year later (Figure 1). A similar effect was found in a study by Nolan (2010), where changes were observed immediately after watching a documentary, but none observed a month later.
|Figure 1: Estimates of individuals changing their behaviour after the release of a documentary|
Volkswagen’s case seems to reflect this finding, with sins past seemingly forgotten by the general public. It raises the question, how much does it take to permanently change people’s opinions towards a company that has built such a strong public image over time as Volkswagen? What does it take to permanently change their opinion and behaviour?
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McGee, P. (2018, January 17). Volkswagen see 4% sales increase in 2017. Financial Times, Retrieved from https://www.ft.com/content/2f16801d-a244-3b61-a967-4eec5c665861
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